Fighting the pirates

At the end of July the Motion Picture Association (MPA) won it’s High Court test case requiring BT to block Newzbin2, a website that sells indexes to illegal sites releasing pirate film and television programmes.

BECTU and members of the Creative Coalition Campaign are pleased that one of the key means of the free downloading of the films and television programmes that we work on will become more difficult.

It has been reported that the U.K. film/tv industry lost approximately 1/2 billion pounds in 2008 to illegal downloading and copying.

Even a small percentage of that could fund a number of independent productions.

That money will not come back to our industry but instead in part go to businesses that steer people to sites that will get them the product for free.

Court documents show that Newzbin earned more than £1 million in 2009 by charging members 30p a week access. (That’s a lot of members!)

What they provided members was ‘editors’ who sorted through the piecemeal binary sites that hosted parts of copyrighted productions and collected the information and packaged it in files that were easy to access.

To my mind this isn’t passively making sure that freedom of access is available to all but actively ensuring that they can sell products they don’t own.

What the court has ruled is that BT must censor access to Newzbin2 recommending that BT use Cleanfeed software that was developed to stop access to child pornography sites.

The original site Newzbin was closed down in 2010 when a judge ordered it to take down links to copyrighted film and television programmes, even though Newzbin claimed it had no awareness of copyright infringement.

All this is not very believable. As soon as Newzbin could not access copyrighted films and television the site closed clearly no longer able to provide it’s ‘members’ the service they paid for to be resurrected as Newzbin2.

The BBC reported in an interview with Newzbin2 spokesperson ‘Mr White’ that Newzbin2 would ensure “continuity to our U.K. users” if the ruling went against them.

Mr White is reported as saying “Our users don’t wish Cleanfeed to work and based on a preliminary technical assessment we think it will be trivially breakable. We have the sand, and if needed we will pour it in Cleanfeed’s engine oil.”

I have problems with businesses that believe their right to sell members the ability to watch a film for 30p a week is more important than controlling the marketing of abuse of children.

Closing off access to websites via the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) is controversial. It is a change of tactics by the big rights holders like the MPA but is called for, they believe because, “It is the result of not being able to identify and enforce action against offshore sites – nobody knows who they are run by or exactly where they are based,”. Newzbin2 was reported as partially being hosted in Sweden.

Closing off sites could be a dangerous tool. This debate is a complex one for sure and I have sympathy with members who say we need to develop business plans for distribution methods that challenge the piracy of films and television programmes, not just block internet access use.

But none of this will be easy or simple.

It is a complex issue but the answer isn’t to just let business that profit from our members work but by there activity ensure that there is less work survive. There is no clear and simple path to solve this problem but actions need to be taken and we need to and will monitor the results.

As a final aside, according to the BBC report it was the MPA that provided to court the information that Newzbin has around 700,000 members and generates an income in excess of £1m per year. ‘Mr White’ denies this.

“We make enough money for strippers and Jack Daniels but Ferraris may be some way off,” he said.

Newzbin2, a company that will threatens to break software that blocks access to child pornography showing the rape and abuse of children and has enough money to support strippers. I am not impressed.

Categories: Broadcasting, Film

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